Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Other Life

Ellen Meister's The Other Life is what I would term fantastical realism. While the book is mostly women's fiction, there are elements of fantasy thrown in. Not being much of a fantasy/science fiction person in general, this mix worked for me.
Quinn is a housewife, living with her husband Lewis and six year old son Isaac in the suburbs. She is happily pregnant with her second child. Yet, in Quinn's other life, she is still dating her ex-boyfriend, Eugene. In Quinn's house there is a portal that allows her to go from one reality to another. Although she had not visited her other reality for years, when she learns that her unborn baby may have serious birth defects, she decides to visit her alternate reality to visit her mother. Quinn's mother Nan committed suicide years earlier, yet is still alive in the alternate reality. Quinn continues to visit her alternate reality, even though the portal allowing her to do this grows smaller each time, making it harder (and eventually impossible) for her to move between realities.

I really liked the realistic fiction/women's fiction aspect of this novel. I liked the idea of Quinn seeing what her life would have been like if she had chosen a different man. I never quite understood what happened to Eugene when she was not with him and was instead busy with Lewis and her son. At one point she entered the portal with Eugene as they vacationed in Fiji and was scuba diving off of a ship. There must have been a "different" Quinn who traveled to Fiji with Eugene for her to just be able to come into this reality mid-activity without anyone thinking anything of it. In her "real" reality, when she left there was a noticeable absence such as the day Quinn returned late and Isaac was left alone after school. Mostly I tried not to think about those specifics and just enjoy the story. Meister includes several subplots: Quinn's relationship with her mother and Nan's untimely death, the struggle between Quinn's brother and his boyfriend, and the emotional struggle that Quinn and her husband undergo as they look to the uncertain future of their unborn child.

Quinn eventually realizes how much her children need her, and even though she has been able to move through portals for her entire life, it appears that the portal is now closed once she finds some peace about her own mother's struggle with depression.

Fantastic realism must be the thing this spring; I have two more books that fit in this category that I am working on, and so far am very entertained by this type of story.

1 comment:

Kay said...

I like the premise of this book too and have downloaded it to my Kindle. I read another book sort of like this a while back - TIME OF YOUR LIFE by Alison Winn Scotch (think that's the name). It's interesting to contemplate - what if I had...

Thanks for sharing, Tina, and I look forward to your hearing about your experiences with the other two books you are reading in the same vein.